Published August 29. 2013 12:00PM Updated August 29. 2013 9:11PM
Joanne Skok fabricated a story that her 12-year-old daughter was terminally ill with brain cancer to solicit money in the late 1980s, according to court testimony.
Known at the time as Joanne Rochette, she spun another tale, saying she was suffering from Hodgkin’s disease and was in danger of losing a leg. To get the last drop of money out of a victim who gave Skok money for surgery, she accused the woman’s husband of having an affair so that the victim would drain their bank account.
Skok, 62, of Ledyard, who has made a career of scamming people, was sentenced to 10 years in prison Thursday in New London Superior Court for stealing the life savings of an elderly woman she had befriended.
Supervisory Assistant State’s Attorney Lawrence J. Tytla, who had prosecuted Skok in another larceny case in 1988, and who handled her current case, said she is a dangerous individual who befriends people when they are at their most vulnerable. She “sets the hook” by appearing to be sincere and then destroys their lives, he said.
“This woman lies the way other people breathe, and she’s done it throughout her life,” Tytla said.
At a trial in May, 75-year-old Jacqueline Becker of Uncasville described an elaborate scam in which Skok and her husband, John Skok, took more than $40,000 from Becker under the guise of helping her with a financial problem. Skok had concocted a story about a nonexistent nephew who was in the FBI and later told Becker that famed mobster John Gotti and a South American lawyer had gotten involved.
Becker’s granddaughters became suspicious and contacted police.
The six-member jury found Skok guilty of first-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny. Judge Arthur C. Hadden ordered Skok to make restitution to the victim.
Becker, who like Skok is wheelchair-bound, was at the sentencing hearing with several family members but had trouble hearing the proceeding because of a problem with her hearing aids. Victim Advocate Beth Ann Hess told Becker she would supply her with a written transcript of the hearing.
Becker declined to address Judge Hadden, saying she was not comfortable speaking in public, but had told a probation officer who conducted a presentencing investigation that she had lost her life savings to Skok and had to give up her home and her pet.
“I feel she will never stop destroying people’s lives as long as she is free,” Becker told the probation officer.
Skok’s attorney, Theodore Koch, had hired sentencing consultant Clint Roberts to address the issue of Skok’s medical needs and the cost to the state.
“The correction system will inherit a large medical burden,” Roberts said.
Skoks suffers from a long list of ailments, including asthma, coronary artery disease, arthritis, Type 2 diabetes and acid reflux, he said. She fractured a tibia over the weekend when she tried to get out of her wheelchair to use the bathroom, Roberts said. He asked the judge to consider a short sentence followed by special parole.
“She’s already imprisoned in her own body,” Koch told the judge.
Hadden, however, said he was obligated to impose a lengthy sentence, noting that the presentencing report detailing Skok’s previous crimes was, in 40 years of working in the criminal justice system, “without a doubt the worst I’ve ever seen.”
“You have virtually destroyed lives, and the sentence must take that into account,” Hadden said. He imposed the sentence of 15 years in prison, suspended after 10 years served, followed by five years probation.
Koch asked the judge to consider allowing Skok to surrender at a later date, saying she has a long list of appointments. He also asked the judge to set an appeal bond so that Skok could remain free while her planned appeal is pending. Tytla, the prosecutor, objected to the a surrender date, saying Skok knew she would be sentenced Thursday and should be taken into custody.
“I can’t disagree with that,” Hadden said. He ordered that Skok be incarcerated immediately. He set the appeal bond amount at $1 million, meaning Skok would have to post that amount should she want to remain free while the appeal is pending.
Skok’s husband’s case is pending in the same court. The state moved that the couple be tried together, but John Skok’s attorney, Michael A. Jewell, argued against it, saying, in part, that John Skok had memory loss due to alcohol abuse, a car accident and a stroke.
Judge Hadden denied the motion to join the cases and ordered that the husband undergo a competency evaluation.
John Skok was evaluated by a clinical team at the state Office of Forensic Evaluations, which determined he is able to understand the court proceedings and to assist in his defense. The clinicians wrote in their report that during an interview, Skok “attempted to exaggerate his deficits and at times was deliberately evasive with his responses.”